Company culture is a hot topic these days; but as much as everyone’s talking about it, very few people are bothering to define it. I can’t claim to have the single, correct definition of company culture, but I can tell you what it means to me.
To me, culture is the force which rallies ordinary people around a shared and extraordinary goal. It is the glue that holds team members together — regardless of age, background, ethnicity or beliefs — in order to achieve something greater than themselves. Without a clear and cohesive culture, a business will never be able to reach its full potential.
The responsibility of cultivating that culture begins and ends with the leadership. While everyone must share in a company’s culture for it to thrive, it is the leadership’s job to create an environment in which that’s possible. To do that, leaders must remain intentional about their company’s culture, and consistent in its application.
When I say, “be intentional” about company culture, I mean don’t sit back and expect it develop on its own. One of the very first things a leader should do when starting a business is to clearly define their core values and identity. And that doesn’t mean just throwing together a generic mission statement and asking your employees to memorize it. For a culture to be compelling, it needs to be both unique and recognizable.
Oftentimes, it’s in the details that those personal traits get defined. For example, at BELAY, we have a 100% non-negotiable, no-gossip policy. We believe that gossip is toxic and completely antithetical to our company’s identity. So, our rule on it is simple — if you gossip, you’re out. That might sound a little extreme, but we’re iron-fisted about it for a reason.
As a 100% remote organization, BELAY has to work extra hard to cultivate the kind of comradery and trust that’s so essential to a team’s success. Physical distance between coworkers can manifest as interpersonal distance as well. So, to make sure our team stays close, we can’t allow any space for animosity and mistrust. As a result, openness, honesty and mutual respect have all become integral, defining elements of our company’s culture.
It’s easy to create a rule and claim that it’s written in stone. It’s a lot harder to uphold it when the chips are down. In the context of our no-gossip policy, that means dismissing team members for gossiping no matter who they are or what their seniority.
That philosophy has led me to make some very difficult decisions over the years. But I stand by those decisions. That’s because, for a culture to survive, it has to be consistent. If you say one thing and do another — or even worse, have a different set of rules for certain people or positions — your company’s culture will erode.
And before you start feeling too comfortable, keep in mind that the same idea applies to Presidents and CEOs as well. One of the quickest ways for a company’s culture to implode is for its leader to think they’re somehow exempt from sharing in it. In reality, it’s the complete opposite. If there’s any one person in a company who needs to embody its values and culture the most, it’s the President.
The other side of that equation is that there’s no more effective champion of a company’s culture than its President. Remember that, as a leader, you have immense power to cultivate a better corporate culture…and you can begin by choosing to lead by example.